As we amble up for the start of yet another Formula One season, not too much has changed in relation to Mark Webber’s future at Red Bull. Webber has played a vital role in the success of the team, helping it to three successive constructors world championships, however recent comments from Red Bull Racing Adviser Helmut Marko, have us wondering just how much longer Mark Webber will be with the team – and who might be his replacement.
Webber goes into the season on his fourth successive one year deal with the team and chances are that it may be his last with the team. Red Bull could decide that at age 36, going on 37, Webber may be worth replacing with a younger driver, or alternatively, Webber may decide that after five years racing alongside current three time would champion Sebastian Vettel that he could have one last role of the dice at another team. Given that the new regulations will revolutionise the sport in 2014, Webber may feel it is wise to take a chance with a midfield team, such as Force India, Williams, Sauber or Lotus, that could make the jump to the top of the pack, in the same way the Honda/Brawn team did to take Jenson Button to the title in 2009.
If Webber does leave the team at the end of the season, who are the drivers that could realistically replace him? The first two candidates are current Toro Rosso drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Verge. Many feel these two haven’t yet got the runs on the board, but if one has his nose in front of the other it is Ricciardo, despite being beaten in points by the Frenchman last year.
Other drivers that would be available to the team next year could include Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean, Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg, and Paul di Resta. Despite being unlikely to get a drive at Red Bull, the team will also surely keep an eye on the progress of Esteban Guiterrez, Pastor Maldonado, Valteri Bottas, Charles Pic, and F1 castaways, Adrian Sutil and Kamui Kobayashi.
Now lets have a think about the type of driver Red Bull will need. The team has Vettel until at least the end of 2014 and will back itself to keep Vettel for a few years beyond that. The team will need a driver that can push Vettel, and although it wouldn’t go for a strict number 1, number 2 policy like Ferrari, would probably also like a driver not quite capable of taking too many points away from Vettel. Basically, Red Bull will be after a younger Mark Webber.
Lets go through the drivers one by one:
Daniel Ricciardo – did nothing to harm his chances last year despite being beaten in points by Vergne, will need to find something extra in 2013. In his favour is that he is capable of the extraordinary – the x factor that is noticed in any sport. If you disagree, have a look at last years Bahrain qualifying.
Jean-Eric Vergne – didn’t do anything extremely noticeable last year, and like Ricciardo will need to find something extra in 2013. Some sort of a chance though.
Felipe Massa – is likely to be dropped by Ferrari at the end of this year and will be considered by most teams to be damaged goods – not the driver Red Bull is looking for.
Romain Grosjean – if he can find the speed he did last year, and can stop crashing like he did last year, he will put himself on Red Bulls radar.
Kimi Raikkonen – unlikely to want to go up against a rampaging Vettel. It’s Lotus or nothing for KR in 2014.
Nico Hulkenberg – has chosen a sideways move to Sauber in order to align himself to Ferrari and will fancy his chances of replacing Massa in 2014. If a Red Bull contact was waived in his face though, he would be in there in a flash. Is he too fast for Vettel? A man Red Bull will keep an eye on, but looks set for Ferrari in 2014.
Paul di Resta – Beaten by Hulkenberg last season, but walked away with his respectability intact. Beat Vettel in the Formula 3 Euroseries when the two were team mates in 2005, but unlikely to beat the German over the course of an F1 season in a Red Bull. Could be the driver on the grid that most resembles Mark Webber.
Pastor Maldonado – see comments made under ‘Romain Grosjean.’
The Rest – unlikely, but you never know.
My tip – The front three are Ricciardo, di Resta, and Hulkenberg. My guess is Paul di Resta. Remember, you heard it here first.
(Image copyright GPNow)